About a week ago I attended the Payson Book Festival. This public and free event is a way for adults and kids to meet and greet dozen's of book creators from all over Arizona (and a few other states). Like other book festivals, authors sit at tables and spend the day chatting with readers and signing books. The Payson Book Festival was my first book festival as an author, and I want to share some of the things I learned as an author attending a book festival.
First, if you are indie/self-published, then you will have to register yourself for the festival you want to attend. The registration process for the Payson Book Festival was relatively simple: I filled out their form, emailed it to the organizer, and then paid the fee through PayPal (most festivals have a registration fee for authors to have booths at their festival). If you are a traditionally published author, your publisher may be setting everything up, including registering and paying fees. However, if you're a traditionally published author attending a festival outside of what your publisher has scheduled for you (aka, you're going on your own), then you're going to have to register yourself and pay any fees yourself.
Second, you'll want to find out all the details about the event. Like, are you getting a full booth, partial booth (sharing with an other author), do you get the whole day or just a time slot (2 hours, 3 hours, etc), is table and chairs provided or do you bring your own equipment, are you responsible for sales or will there be a bookstore or other 3rd party that will sell books for you, do you need to have a state and city vendor's license (in most cases, yes), are you responsible for tax remittance, is any food or beverages provided, how many people attended the event in the past and so on.
If your publisher is setting everything up, that's great. If not, then it's really important to know how you'll be selling your books and what the set up is like and what you'll need to bring. Tables and chairs were provided for the authors, and there was an independent bookstore that was willing to sell authors' books at the Payson Book Festival, so technically all I had to bring was copies of my book, many Sharpies (so important to have multiple writing tools), and myself (and Bobby; it is always nice to have a person helping you who is familiar with the book).
Third, sales expectations. This information is probably some of the hardest information to find on the Internet (Bobby and I spent a couple of hours looking for what should I expect in sales). My guess as to why this information is hard to find is because sales are not high at book festivals. Most people (readers) are there because it's a free event, and they have specific authors or books they're looking for, or they already have the book and are going to the event just to get the book signed.
From what I've read from other authors who have willingly shared this information (and from my own experience) is that you're doing really well if you are selling 1 (that's ONE) book per hour. I sold 10 books over the 6 hours of the Payson Book Festival and that was considered really good (the Payson Book Festival has a couple hundred attendees). I read another blog post from an author who attended the Brooklyn Book Festival, which has 10,000 people attend, and he sold only 4 novels. Managing your own expectations regarding book sales is key to determining if the event was successful by your own measures.
And that sentence brings me to my final thought/lesson learned. To me, the point of the book festival is to get your name out there and to connect with your readers. People may not buy your book, but if you have a card or sticker with your name and book on it, when they go to the library or bookstore next, then they may want to ask the librarian or bookstore owner for your book. Or they may want to look you up and find out that you do classroom visits/other speaker engagement events and ask you to come speak to their class. That is why it is a good idea to have free swag.
The Payson Book Festival was my first time as an author at a festival, but it was not my first festival. I've been doing science festivals and other such events for an non-profit engineering professional organization since 2004. From those science festivals and outreach events, I've learned that people love free stuff. I personally have too much shwag from conferences that I've stopped collecting it from booths, but people want free pencils, stickers, bookmarks, chapstick, pens, etc. for whatever reason. I had some bookmarks (with my name and book on them) that I offered to people. I didn't try to sell people on my book; I just said, hi, please have a free bookmark. About 50% of the time, they'd ask me questions about the book and 5% of the time, they'd buy a book. Another author at the event was handing out bags of dried basil and bay leaves, as her book was about holistic health. She got a lot of traffic at her booth.
Offering something for free draws people to your booth (of course so does a good looking book cover, but you'll have to Google to find posts on how to design a good looking cover). Kids especially love picking up stickers and bookmarks each booth, so it was a success to me that I only had 25 out of 100 bookmarks left. Potentially 75 kids now know who Annie Aardvark is!
If you're an illustrator, you can also consider selling some of your art or giving out small postcards with your art. If you're the author, you can consider selling some other product that is associated with your book. For example, the author I shared a booth with, she sold stuff animals that related to the animal characters in her books. Just be aware that children (and their parents) might not understand the product or art is for sell, so it's a good idea to have a sign clearly stating a price. If you're an author/illustration, you can consider selling both art and products. Make sure to check with the festival about selling things other than books (and also if you'll need a vendor's license).
Another idea that may sell books, is to offer a special festival only price. Aka, a discount. I offered a 25% discount on my book just for the festival (it could only be done at the festival, not online; although an all day online discount that correlates to the festival could also be considered). I think the free stuff had a bigger impact on sales than the discount, but it's worth exploring if you're selling the book yourself (or can price it at a discount with the third party who's going to sell your book that day).
Finally, if you are handling sales at your booth/table, be prepared to accept as many forms of payment as possible. Square is one of many providers that makes it incredibly convenient to accept credit/debit cards. All you need is a smartphone and the app, but if you plan ahead, you can get swipe readers for free from Square or you can pay for readers that can even accept Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and other contactless forms (know your customer). But don't forget cash is still the preferred payment method for many customers as well.
In summary, I had a good time at the Payson Book Festival. I always enjoy interacting with children and their parents at events, and the Payson Book Festival was the same. It's important to remember that the goal of the festival is the interaction with readers. You are there to connect with your readers. It's also a good opportunity to network with other authors and illustrators. I now have another author friend that I can ask questions and seek guidance from. I highly recommend that any author (or illustrator), whether self-published or traditionally published, attend at least one book festival (or fair) in their writing career. The experiences and connections will at least make for some good writing fodder, but will also hopefully get your name out to the public. Plus, it's fun!
If you have any further questions for me about book festivals (like what is this vendor's license thing I keep mentioning), please leave me a comment or reach out to me on social media (Twitter or Facebook). Happy reading everyone!